The issue with Premier Notley’s $25-a-day child care project

Images from a children's photography event I did for the We Did It! School Age Care Society. The event was a Field Day for kids and involved some arts and crafts, games, and plenty of time on the playground. We used the opportunity to create some great photos for We Did It! to use on their website and marketing materials. There were both posed and candid images, and plenty of fun!..©2012, Sean Phillips.http://www.RiverwoodPhotography.com

While the creation of 1,000 new child care spaces and 230 child care jobs is a great outcome of the project, the program does not help those who truly need affordable child care systems.

 

A few weeks ago, Alberta Premier Rachael Notley released plans to enact a $25-a-day childcare pilot program in 18 centres across the province. The $10-million project will see $500,000 grants provided to eligible centres and open 1,000 new child-care spaces and create 230 new child-care jobs, said Notley.

 

As the CBC reports, Premier Notley will use the pilot project to develop a new childcare system and wants accessible areas such as hospitals, schools, and other public areas to have the centres.

 

However, members of Alberta’s Wildrose party believe the $25-a-day is not a practical solution for the issue of affordable child care and they will keep a close eye on how the system operates.

 

While Premier Notley’s program might sound like a realistic solution to affordable child care in Alberta, I agree when the Wildrose says it is not, even if we have different political interests. Sure, $25-a-day childcare might sound like an affordable, inexpensive, and reasonable solution, but it is no different than what is offered to Alberta citizens at the current moment.

 

In reality, the language used by Premier Notley and the NDP, as well as the term “$25-a-day,” only suggested and shaped a belief in the program’s affordability.

 

Let’s look at the math, if the average amount of days in a month is 28 and the price of child care is $25 a day, the cost ends up at $700 per month and $8,400 per year. On average, Alberta families already pay between $700 and $1,300 a month for childcare, and it is still unaffordable for some families, so what benefit does state-operated child care offer?

 

(To note, these numbers are only based on averages and a comparison of current trends with the framework of the pilot project, and do not reflect the possible outcomes for the program.)

 

Granted, under the NDP child care subsidy program, a single parent with one child in grades K through six and an annual income of $50,000 qualifies for $310 per month in subsidies. Also, the Alberta child care subsidies apply to low-income families who make less than $50,000 with varied rates based on number of kids, other received benefits, and total annual income. In addition, as per the Alberta government website, families with one child who earn less than $41,220 annually qualify to receive $1,100 per year ($92 per month), in government assistance.

 

In the case of a single parent with one child in elementary school, $392 is certainly an appreciated gesture and would help cover some of the cost to put them in child care. However, if the price of child care is $700 then these child care subsidies only cover 56 per cent of the total cost, and although 56 per cent may seem like a major amount of coverage, it is not. This is not to say it is the responsibility of the government to cover child-care costs’ entirely, on the contrary, it is to look at the external aspects which cause child care to be unaffordable.

 

According to Global News, the Edmonton Social Planning Council estimated, a family with two children would need to make $34.72 an hour to meet their family’s basic needs in 2015. With only one child, a rough estimate could be made to say this number would be about half and the main provider would need to earn about $17.36 per hour.

 

On Oct. 1, 2016, the NDP took their first step toward a solution of this issue when they raised the provincial minimum wage to $12.20 per hour, five dollars short of the ESPC’s estimation. To detail, the single parent with one elementary-school-aged child can be used as an example to point out the issue in the $25-a-day child care program. In an extreme case, let us say our single parent works 40 hours a week at minimum wage for an annual income of about $23,228, or $1935 per month, after taxes.

 

We will also assume this family receives child support payments of $101 a month, the provincial average according to a 2014 report by Statistics Canada, and add the $392 monthly subsidy.

 

This brings the overall total of monthly household income to about $2428.

 

If this family chose to live in Glenbrook, an inner-city Calgary neighbourhood which may not be the best neighbourhood in the city, but overall is a safe and inexpensive area to live in.

 

The Walk Score website lists the average price of rent for a two-bedroom home in Glenbrook at $1,200 a month with a range in cost based on size and specific location.

 

For lone-parent Alberta households with no additional persons, Stats Canada reports a monthly average of $566 for food, $300 for clothing, $88 for personal care, and $155 for health care. Also, the expatistan cost of living index website says Calgarians pay $52 for basic internet, $103 for a transit pass, and $123 in utilities for one person in a studio of 480sqf, per month.

 

Include the monthly $54 in Calgary Board of Education elementary student school fees and the $700 per month child care the total cost of living averages out to about $3341 monthly – $913 more than the parent’s income. For sure, most people’s first thought would be to adjust the family budget, find a new job, get another job, or cut excess utilities such as the internet – While the obvious course of action, in theory, it does not always work in practice.

 

As a single parent with an elementary-aged child, they are limited to a narrow selection of jobs which offer the flexibility for them to care for their child, they cannot go work in the oil patch. Add in the possibility of little to no post-secondary education, along with the current economic downturn and the scarcity of jobs, the options available to these parents become even slimmer.

 

Furthermore, businesses and corporations continue to move their job application process onto the internet, so to cut their internet utility would leave them unable to search for a new job. Also, if the parent were to get multiple jobs they would not be able to spend time with their families, which in turn would require more child care and defeat the purpose of more jobs.

 

Although the example I have used is an extreme case, there are at least thousands of people who live in Alberta under these conditions and struggle to make ends meet daily. In an anecdotal sense, many parents and families I know struggle with this exact scenario and are forced to seek unregistered child care from family members or family friends regularly.

 

Once again, we must ask the question: Why are low-income families forced to live life as a slave and break their backs just to make ends meet for their families and have comfortable lives?

 

We Did It! School-age Care Society is considerate of these families, the minority families who are forgotten as issues are solved for the majority and offer child care at a fraction of the cost.

 

While it is too early to judge the success of the pilot project, as well as how the program will change once the pilot is completed, these are issues the NDP still needs to look at and solve.

 

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